THE MARRIAGE TRAP
Laura Kipnis has written a new book arguing the obsolescence of marriage. As summarized by Meghan O’Rourke,
Modern marriage doesn’t work for the majority of people. The rate of divorce has roughly doubled since the 1960s. Half of all marriages end in divorce. And as sketchy as poll data can be, a recent Rutgers University poll found that only 38 percent of married couples describe themselves as happy.
What’s curious, though, is that even though marriage doesn’t seem to make Americans very happy, they keep getting married (and remarried). Kipnis’ essential question is: Why? Why, in what seems like an age of great social freedom, would anyone willingly consent to a life of constricting monogamy? Why has marriage (which she defines broadly as any long-term monogamous relationship) remained a polestar even as ingrained ideas about race, gender, and sexuality have been overturned?
Kipnis’ answer is that marriage is an insidious social construct, harnessed by capitalism to get us to have kids and work harder to support them. Her quasi-Marxist argument sees desire as inevitably subordinated to economics. And the price of this subordination is immense: Domestic cohabitation is a “gulag”; marriage is the rough equivalent of a credit card with zero percent APR that, upon first misstep, zooms to a punishing 30 percent and compounds daily. You feel you owe something, or you’re afraid of being alone, and so you “work” at your relationship, like a prisoner in Siberia ice-picking away at the erotic permafrost.
Rather amusing, but I have to agree with O’Rourke that this is rather simplistic and even more pessimistic than the data would suggest warranted:
Kipnis spends scant time thinking about the fact that marriage is a hardy social institution several thousand years old, spanning many culturesÃ¢€”which calls into question, to say the least, whether its presence in our lives today has mostly to do with the insidious chokehold capitalism has on us.
One would think.